Statistics are showing the industry is finally starting to move on from five years of downturn and recession. Let’s hope it keeps the momentum up.
With 2013 drawing to a close, and the festive panto season in full swing, the most appropriate phrase on which to end the year appears to be a relieved “It’s behind you.”
This is not so much a reflection on the last 12 months themselves - although some, including major contractors Balfour Beatty, Lend Lease and Carillion, will presumably not be sad to see the back of a difficult year that has prompted extensive restructuring. It’s because the latter part of the year in particular has finally enabled the industry to start moving on from five years of downturn and recession.
The latest official statistics, out this week, show output rose 2.5% in the three months to October, continuing the steady improvement evident since the middle of the year. There’s still a long way to go before the market could be described as being in glowing health, but it’s also a reassuringly far cry from the picture back in January, when forecaster Experian greeted the new year by cutting its output forecast for 2013 by 1% to a 3.5% fall.
So, the industry is, finally, able to start looking forward with a degree of optimism. But as it does so, it’s also apt, in our final issue of the year, to cast a look back at what the recession - and the last 12 months in particular - will mean for the sector’s future.
This year has, more than any of the past five years, given an indication of how recession has reshaped the industry. The sector is putting into practice a leaner, smarter form of construction - with BIM and standardised design evident on more and more projects. The latter part of the year has also shown signs that the industry, helped by government policy to promote investment in the sector, can attract new forms of finance, for example in the form of insurance companies. This is a good sign for the future.
The last 12 months has also been characterised by some large-scale restructures - particularly in the contracting sector - although the jury is still out on whether these have gone far enough to reposition businesses for a more constrained economic normality. We’ve also learnt, courtesy of a certain London tower, that it pays to be very cautious with the positioning of glass facades, unless you want to branch out into a street food venture with the cooking powered by the sun’s reflected rays.
But for all this, there are still some lessons that need to be better understood and implemented if the recession is not going to be seen as a wasted chance to improve the sector’s prospects.
The disquiet over skills shortages shows that the industry still needs to do more to attract and develop recruits.
From a government perspective, the watering down of policies and initiatives designed to drive green construction - most notably the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) - is particularly damaging to both the opportunity to improve the UK’s chances of meeting sustainability targets, and its ability to create jobs. And the lack of long term planning on infrastructure projects, highlighted by John Armitt in his recent review, continues to tie the hands of the sector’s efforts to modernise the UK’s transport and energy infrastructure.
These issues will be central to Building’s campaigning journalism over the next year, as will a continued push on our Green for Growth agenda.
We’ll be back in print on 10 January, and our coverage will continue online over the festive period. But for now, we wish you a happy and relaxing Christmas, and an (increasingly) prosperous new year.
Sarah Richardson, editor